49ers report card

Sunday night's 31-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was San Francisco's worst defeat so far this season - yes, even worse than Week 2 in Philadelphia, considering the competition - and the 49ers get a set of predominantly sorry grades that reflect that sorry performance.

RUSHING OFFENSE: Handed a 14-0 lead by the defense, the 49ers needed to pound the ball at Arizona and grind it out on the ground to remain in command. But they couldn't do it. They had just 20 yards rushing on nine carries and no rushing first downs in the first half. Kevan Barlow had bursts of 11 and 10 yards in the second half, but by then it was too late. Barlow did finish with 45 yards on 10 carries, but the blocking up front couldn't get him any holes when it really mattered and the Niners finished with just 51 yards and a 3.6 average on the ground. It was a pitiful performance against a rushing defense that ranked 28th in the league entering the game, particular considering the big lead the San Francisco offense was handed. Grade: D-

PASSING OFFENSE: Tim Rattay completed half his passes but seemed to fail whenever it really counted. His interception may have come as a result of poor communication with receiver Brandon Lloyd, but it still was a horrible throw. Anthony Clement had a terrible game at left tackle in place of the injured Jonas Jennings, and that contributed greatly to San Francisco allowing five sacks. Johnnie Morton made some nice grabs starting in place of the injured Arnaz Battle, and Lloyd continued to emerge with his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game. But he had a costly fumble, and despite an otherwise fine effort by Lloyd, the San Francisco offense was shut out, and ineptitude in the passing game had a lot to do with it. Grade: F

RUSHING DEFENSE: Arizona quarterback Josh McCown broke containment a few times, and that allowed the Cardinals to extend some drives, but the Niners were otherwise solid throughout the evening against the run – and McCown's 32 rushing yards came mostly on designed passing plays. Although the Cards finished with 97 yards rushing, they averaged just 2.9 yards on the ground, with lead backs Marcel Shipp (2.6 average) and J.J. Arrington (1.9) doing even worse. The Niners had six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and Travis Hall's forced fumble resulted in Derrick Johnson's 78-yard touchdown return that gave the Niners a 14-0 lead. This grade probably would deserve to be higher if the Niners had played better as a team. Grade: B

PASSING DEFENSE: This couldn't have started out any better, with Bryant Young crashing through the middle of the Arizona offensive line on the game's first play from scrimmage to force a fumble that the Niners returned for a touchdown. Though McCown was sacked two other times, the tiring defense couldn't keep consistent pressure on the Arizona quarterback, giving him time to get in rhythm and slice apart a secondary that had no answers. Arizona receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald simply dominated San Francisco defensive backs as the Cardinals asserted control over the final three quarters. It's tough to fail a pass defense that produces a touchdown, but when it allows a career-high 385 yards passing to a journeyman QB like McCown, it definitely deserved to be saddled with such a grade. Grade: F

SPECIAL TEAMS: It's difficult to blame a return unit when Arizona's Neil Rackers is blasting all his kickoffs to the back of the end zone – or beyond. But the Niners got nothing from their return game – 38 yards on two kickoff returns by Maurice Hicks and seven yards on two punt returns by Otis Amey. Andy Lee's punting in the thin air was excellent – he averaged 46.7 yards on seven kicks – but the coverage unit allowed Reggie Swinton a 14.2 average on five punt returns, which helped Arizona with field position. It wasn't necessarily bad, but this was otherwise the poorest effort of the season by these usually dependable and productive units. Grade: C-

COACHING: It's really starting to come down to a question of whether it's the coaching or the players. But the dynamics of this game changed immediately, and the Niners should have come up with a better way to hold onto an early 14-point lead. The offensive play-calling seemed predictable to the point of sometimes almost being pathetic. And defensively, it was obvious zone coverage wasn't working in the secondary. The Niners had to protect their weak cornerbacks, but since Arizona receivers just ran to open spots in coverage, the 49ers should have taken more chances in man-to-man coverage rather than letting Arizona's passing game march the Cardinals down the field at will in the final three quarters. Grade: D-

OVERALL: You thought the Philadelphia debacle was bad? This was even worse. The 49ers made the lowly Cardinals look like the high-flying Eagles. This wasn't a step back. It was a nosedive downward. Injuries obviously played a factor, but the Niners were dominated by a team that ostensibly wasn't much better than they are. If this is what the dregs of the NFL can do to San Francisco, what kind of disasters still are on the horizon? This was the 49ers' worst game of the season, and it went far to pull the rug out from under the hope that things will get better any time soon. Grade: F

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